It’s been so long since I wrote that people have been asking me if I’m all done.
I’ve been telling people that my silence has been caused by the perfect storm of work, surgeries every 5-6 weeks, and trying to arrange a renovation and a wedding at the same time.
But the truth? The reconstruction process has actually been a bit heartbreaking. And I actually didn’t feel like blogging about it.
I’m now in for round three of the fat grafting process. Round three? I told myself there wouldn’t be a round three. But then, I also told myself that I’d have great (fake) breasts at the end of it.
There have been a lot of lies floating around.
After round two, I went to see my surgeon. The plan: to say right, Sir. We are done with fat grafting. Give me my implants pronto because I want nice breasts for the wedding next March.
And his response. Sort of squirmy. Awkward.
Something along the lines of your scarring is worse than we thought. Your chest wall skin is stretched too thin to accommodate breast implants. But the good news? The “experimental” fat grafting seems to be going well and we’re confident that you can get a good A cup out of it.
Fricking A cup? A CUP???
I’ve been through this many surgeries and this much treatment and this much bullsh*t and you’re offering me an A CUP?
It was all I could do not to collapse in a blubbering heap on the surgeon’s floor.
I know I should feel lucky just to be here at all, but bloody hell, I promised myself breasts. Good breasts.
The little girl inside of me had her red balloon, her teddy bear and her lollipop wrenched off her all at once. My bottom lip quivered for two days.
An A CUP!!!
But then I did what I always do, and rationalised. And compromised. And I bought myself my first ever WonderBra (A cup!) so that maybe, just maybe after round 3 I could take my crappo little A cups and squeeze them into some pubescent notion of cleavage?
So far, by the way, I’m not filling the A cup. I’m aspiring to the A cup.
And my fake foam breasts still fool everyone into thinking everything’s OK. And now they are the carriers of false hope. When I wear them it’s like they’re mocking me. They’re saying like them? These are the fake breasts you can only dream of!
And then you know what else has been happening? Pink Fricking October. Pinktober. Shudder.
I’m here to tell you that the breast cancer community (or at least the ones I know) don’t bloody like Pinktober.
It’s not that we’re not pro fundraising or awareness. No, no. What pisses us off is that Pinktober is the month of platitudes. Where big corporates donate peanuts to a charity, turn a product pink, some idiot buys the product and everyone feels like they’re somehow saving the world. (I can see my advertising brethren backing away from me right now saying that’s our clients you’re panning. Keep your voice down, angry lady. Sorry, but it’s true. You’re helping the economy, yes. But curing breast cancer? Doubtful).
Or, worse. Some idiot decides to create some Facebook meme where women write something cryptic on their wall… Like where they put their handbag… And it’s meant to be some “all us chicks are in this together and those silly boys just don’t get it”… And I guess maybe they think some donation fairy somewhere flicks a few bucks into a research charity? Maybe?
GAAAAHHH!!! There is no donation fairy!!!
Sorry. Control the righteous indignation. Control it.
But guess what? There’s an even dumber event on the calendar. Ladies, meet No Bra Day.
Yep, you guessed it. You can forego the bra in celebration of your fabulous titties and again, that magical donation fairy will flap her shiny wings and breast cancer is cured!!!
So I’m here to tell you, oh pack of loose titted geniuses, that your no-titted post mastectomy brethren are plotting to hurt you.
Get a clue, brainiacs. Flapping your perfect love bags in our faces is not making us feel loved, or supported. It’s just rubbing in our faces what we don’t even have.
Wow, I feel so much better. This blog is way cheaper than therapy!
So, yeah, that’s where I’m at. I’m sitting in a day surgery waiting room during Pinktober dreaming of my new A cups. Someone will knock me out cold any minute now (and charge me $800 for the privilege) and maybe, just maybe, I might look a little less like a ten year old boy when I wake.
Wish me luck. And boobs.
P.S. Why the photo? These are a few of my favourite things right now. A mighty fine little skull-shaped bottle of tequila and a little Day of the Dead bride and groom, lovingly bought for me by the wonderful Mark and Kara in Santa Fe. I thought they might cut through the grumpiness of this post a little!
I’ve always liked a bruise. They are the daytime soap opera drama queens of the injury family.
All flamboyant colours, spectacular visual representations of pain but very little actual substance. The kind of injuries you can proudly show off to a friend without them gagging in disgust, and boast of the “dangerous” situation by which you acquired it, all while sipping a latte and reading the paper.
Well, my friends, this bruise is not one of those bruises. And this is a G-rated photo of said bruise. If you want the full bruise experience, you need to ask me sweetly to show you a picture of my swollen naked arse and bloated purple thigh (or you could forego the photo and ask to see the real thing, I’m usually happy to oblige). And yes, I am wearing bike pants. Doctor’s orders. Ho ho ho.
OK, Niccola, what gives? Aren’t your medical mishaps normally in the breast department?
Why yes, kind reader, they are! Let me get you up to speed, because you haven’t heard from me for a while. These last three months have been a sequence of blues, and blacks, and purples and yellows. Firstly in the stomach department, courtesy of an injection called Zoladex. Zoladex is a friendly little syringe roughly the size of an elephant gun who gets hammered in to my gut monthly and leaves me in a permanent state of menopause with a bruise that looks like I’ve been assaulted with a rock melon. Nice guy, huh? Bastard.
I thought Zoladex was the baddie in my life, but that was before I experienced liposuction. Liposuction? I know, what is this, an episode of Real Housewives of …? Actually, I like to call it Real Housewives of BC.
Yes, liposuction. The first stage of my breast reconstruction involves what the surgeons delicately label “scar revision”. A so-called “minor procedure” that involves sucking the fat out of my thigh and injecting it in to the cavities formerly occupied by my breasts. “Minor procedure” my swollen purple arse!!!
My breasts are actually faring the best throughout all of this. They are sitting peacefully on my chest with minor, quite subdued bruising, neither concave or convex, not causing anyone any problems.
But my left thigh has swollen to twice its normal size and turned a deep, royal purple. And this is not one of these latte-sipping drama queen bruises. This is a hugely painful affair that means I groan every time I stand or sit (on one buttock only) and hobble around the house in my two pairs of bike shorts.
Minor procedure??? I’d hate to experience what a major procedure is like if this is considered minor. This hurts worse than the bilateral mastectomy. Cellulitis aka The Elephant still wins the pain game but this comes a close second.
Ladies, think twice before you nip down to your local hospital to get a bit of fat sucked out of your thighs. I like my fat. I miss my fat. Cosmetic surgery is so barbaric. I can’t imagine how or why people would elect to go down this path. It’a messed up world where people are starving on one continent while adults are getting their fat sucked out on another… Go to the gym if you don’t like your fat! Or love yourself the way you are! Grump grump grump. My butt hurts.
What else can I tell you? My beautiful puppy has also been under the knife, and has had a terrible surgical run of it as well. Like dog like owner. Bizarre.
She also has a messy looking thigh.
We’re a good pair, hobbling around the house together. But the important thing is, she’s home, as am I. We might look a bit messy but we’re A-OK and happy to have each other.
The best thing about bruises is that they come and go. In a week or two they’re a distant memory. They’re not like scars, things that stay with you, a haunting reminder of what’s been. In another few days, I’ll shed my daggy bike pants and return to the real world as though nothing bad ever befell me. And hopefully this bruise leaves a good legacy, a formerly scarred pair of breasts that are ever so slightly closer to being new again.
Is it old news to do a post responding to Angelina’s brave announcement last week?
You can imagine how many people have asked me my thoughts on this. I appreciate your interest, and I think it’s great how much dialogue Angelina’s words have sparked. I could have done without the narrow-minded, withering and smarmy responses to Angelina’s announcement that popped up periodically on Facebook, but then, the haters will always hate, won’t they?
So what do I think?
That Angelina is a brave and strong woman, and that she deserves our respect. Bringing this complicated subject in to the public eye can only be a good thing.
(There’s always a but…).
What worries me, coming at this from the less fortunate side of the bilateral mastectomy debate, is that a good news story like this can over-simplify the subject matter a little.
Just in case you’ve only recently started reading my blog, a quick refresher on my experiences thus far.
Last June, after a woefully slow diagnosis process, I was found to have an invasive ductal carcinoma underneath my right nipple. It was roughly the size of a twenty-cent coin (that’s a bit bigger than a quarter, my USA friends…). At my doctor’s advice, I underwent genetic testing, and found that I carried the BRCA2 gene mutation.
After some consideration, I decided to undergo a bilateral mastectomy – prophylactic on my left, removing the cancer on my right. I had no choice but to lose my nipples – one was already affected by the cancer, and from my perspective, any remaining breast tissue wasn’t worth the risk. I didn’t have enough spare tissue (eg a tubby tummy) for a natural tissue reconstruction, so I had the first stage of my breast reconstruction along with my initial surgery, just as Angelina did.
In the weeks following the surgery, I was really quite happy with the aesthetic result. Sure, I didn’t have nipples, but I did have rapidly expanding breasts, which was good fun. They were also gravity defying. Bonus.
Unfortunately, there were also tiny amounts of cancer found in my right lymph node. This meant that I had to start chemo before my final reconstructive surgery (the point where the expanders are replaced by silicon implants). I was assured that it was fine to keep the expanders in for the six months or so of chemo.
Sadly, it was not the case. My left breast developed a bad infection. It took months before it was correctly diagnosed as cellulitis (the bug responsible was called Pseudomonis) and by that point, the infection had also spread across my chest wall to my right breast. I was in terrible pain, and it took three additional surgeries, three week-long hospital stays, and five weeks of IV antibiotics (and the end of chemo) before the infection was finally banished.
The day they removed my left implant was absolutely heart-breaking. Ditto the day they removed my right implant. For months following I couldn’t look at my naked body in the mirror. I couldn’t bear to see the long ragged scars, the loose flab where my beautiful breasts used to be.
It’s still really hard. While I’ve now grown accustomed to my breast-less torso, at certain moments I’m suddenly abruptly reminded of how different I am from other women. I’m too scared to get a massage or a spa treatment because I don’t want to have to explain why I have no breasts. At the gym and the swimming pool, I now get changed in a toilet cubicle because I don’t want myself or anyone else feeling uncomfortable or awkward. For months I even tried hiding my scars from my own partner. It’s still many months before I can start again and embark on two more major surgeries to hopefully get my breasts back.
But what does this have to do with Angelina?
What she’s proposing avoids most of this nastiness. By having the bilateral mastectomy preventatively, you can usually keep the nipples. They go a good way towards hiding the nasty scars. And being healthy throughout the reconstruction (rather than immune suppressed while undergoing chemo) means that the chance of infection is very small.
Here’s the interesting part. When I was debating the bilateral mastectomy, I was debating it on largely aesthetic grounds. It’s human nature to view it that way. But the thing is that having a bilateral mastectomy has a much, much deeper impact than purely aesthetic.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Mastectomy is a pretty word for what is actually an amputation. Along with the breast tissue that is scraped out from the chest area go the nerves as well.
Over the months, the nerve endings try to repair themselves. A lack of sensation turns to strange dull pins-and-needles. Sometimes it feels like two phantom breasts are hanging off my chest. The lack of sensation extends right around to the start of my back, which feels quite painful to the touch.
It’s easy to say so what, you don’t need breasts. But actually, psychologically, I say you do. Without going into gory detail, breasts form an important part of a woman’s sexual physiology. It’s in this context that I miss them the most. I actually feel like less of a woman without them.
Will having fake, reconstructed breasts help reduce this? Maybe. But it won’t bring the sensation back. Those new breasts will never be completely part of me.
Looking back on those difficult days leading up to my mastectomy, I wish that someone had told me to really feel how it was to have breasts, and to remember that feeling. But everyone was too busy telling me how great my new breasts would look.
Right now, with my ravaged flat chest, do I most want the appearance of my breasts to return? No. I want the sensation to return. I want my chest to feel like it belongs to me again. I would be interested to know whether in six months time, Angelina feels the same way.
I’m not saying bilateral mastectomies are a bad thing. They’re a life saver. And I commend any woman with the strength to go through with it, particularly prophylactically.
But I just want the dialogue to go deeper than it was three months of discomfort but then I popped out the other end with great breasts – the end.
It’s just not that simple.
And we’re doing women a disservice if we make it out to be that simple.
This is my honest opinion. Please respect it for what it is – an opinion. I don’t know if my experience is typical, good, bad, middling, but it’s worth sharing. I hope it may prove of assistance to someone making what is possibly the hardest decision of a lifetime.
All my love, as always.
Postscript: As per always, Scorchy has posted some incredibly insightful comments on this topic. Definitely worth a read.
I never thought of myself as the type to deal in magical thinking. I was a realist. A rationalist. I dealt with things with the bare minimum of fuss, fantasy and fear. And then I got cancer.
I started off, true to form, brave and rational. I cheered myself I wasn’t scared of needles, or doctors. Truth: I was very scared of hospitals though. I didn’t have a nice history with hospitals. My hospital experiences were all tied up with death (my two grandmothers), near death (my mother’s horrific and extended experience with colitis) and fear of cancer-related death (my dad’s prostate cancer).
Now, nine months or so later, in that strange hinterland post treatment, I’ve had to finally admit that my superstitions run very deep indeed. And that there are fears where there were no fears before.
Two weeks ago, I wholeheartedly leapt back in to full-time work. And it was wonderful how everything slotted back in to place. It was pretty much, save for people’s polite queries regarding my shaved head, like cancer was a bad dream and that I’d now woken up.
Except it wasn’t a bad dream. Two days ago I returned to hospital to have my IV port removed. Oh yes, my trusty port. The port that gave me my chemo, litres of blood transfusions, five weeks of IV drugs. Was I happy to get it out? Hell, yes! Was I scared to get it out? Terrified!
Getting the port out meant saying to the world I’m done with this. Chemo is over. The cellulitis is defeated. I won’t need weekly blood tests. Treatment be gone! But new me, magical thinking me, quaked. Don’t tempt fate like that. Never say never!
Walking in to the hospital was difficult. For so many months the hospital was my turf. I felt safer there than anywhere else. I knew the secret passageways, recognised the nurses and enjoyed the changing notice boards and art displays. After just two weeks of work, the hospital felt foreign. Scary. A return to the nightmare.
And when I lay on the sliding metal X-ray tray with a pretty young radiologist saying It’ll only be three or four needles I felt faint. I hate needles. I didn’t use to, but I do now. Every needle stuck in to my chest reminds me of my first breast biopsy, and then the terrible sentinel node biopsy the day before my surgery. I so vividly remember that the last thing my breasts went through was searing pain. Isn’t that sad?
Anyway, the port came out, and so far so good. Rationality:1 Superstition:0.
Does it mean the magical thinking has passed? Not in the least. I couldn’t join a social network for people with breast cancer the other day because you had to say where your treatment was at, and all I could think was how horrible it would be if I found the cancer had spread and I had to update my status. Crazy lady, right?
I’m almost relieved that I have five years where I’m not permitted to have kids, or say it’s over, because it gives me an end date for superstition. December 24, 2017. That’s the date.
So what am I up to in the meantime? Well, I figure that if life is a game of Monopoly, I’m now out of jail and have just been dealt a Chance card. Sort of a Go directly to work, pay your mortgage, go on nice holidays, generally act like a complete yuppy and in five years you can roll the dice again Chance card. And that is A-OK with me.
Step 1 was turning 31. 30 was, to put it mildly, the lousiest year of my life. So my first act was to start 31 right. I booked a lovely house in Jervis Bay with my nearests and dearests and had four days of eating, drinking, walking on the beach (in the rain), swimming, and one very intense Pictionary game. 31 started with little pretension but much happiness, and I hope it’ll continue in the same spirit. Thanks so much to all the wonderful people who drove down over the weekend. You filled my superstitious soul to the brim with wonderful, positive, happy vibes and left little space for any cancer fears.
I hope you’re not too bored of puppy photos yet, because here are a few more from the weekend.
Lots of luck (and love) to you all.
Every year it gets a little harder to answer when someone asks what I’d like for Christmas. I guess that’s what getting older does, every year you need a little less. Well, this year, I had no answers at all. Having cancer, and being in the midst of chemo, is one big want killer. All I could say, when anyone asked, was Have you got a time machine to take me forward by three months so I can finish chemo?
After my reaction to the Taxol, which it seems was a fully blown anaphylaxis, I was left awkwardly hanging there. My oncologist showed new depths, both of emotion and also professionalism, by taking a week to consult with her peers and weigh up all my options. It was an uncomfortable week, but an important one.
And at its end came some staggering news, which you’ll all cheer about, but I have to admit left me feeling a bit… lost?
The final decision was to end my chemo early. Three months early. My Christmas time machine had arrived. No more Taxol. No more Red Devil. No more anti nausea drugs, no more laxatives. Instead, a little white pill named Tamoxifen.
A little white pill that will be my daily companion for the next five years.
I knew that hormone therapy awaited me. That when chemo was over, that I’d be taking a little pill that blocked the estrogen receptors of all the cells travelling around my body, and that would mean that I’d need to be kept in a state of early menopause for five years. I knew it, I did, but I filed it in my bulging later folder.
And suddenly it was staring me in the face, and I was in the Survival Phase.
Another consideration pushed the decision to end the chemo. My friend the elephant. He’d made it clear that he wasn’t leaving me as long as I was on chemo. My body was… is… too weak to fight elephants right now. Taking me off chemo gives me a fighting chance to kick the cellulitis once and for all.
So, simultaneous to the arrival of the time machine, was the arrival of the Baxter Bottle. The Baxter Bottle is attached to my chest, via my port, and will be delivering me IV antibiotics 24/7 for the next six weeks. This saves me having to be in hospital (big hurrah indeed!) but means I must carry a bag or wear a bum bag (fanny pack for my American friends) at all times to hold my bottle. I have some interesting tubes hanging out of me, which draw stares when I’m in public.
But that wasn’t all that happened prior to Christmas.
We also had a call from the IVF clinic. The genetic testing on our three Judes was complete. And two out of three Judes carry the bad cancer gene.
It’s a lot to take in.
So I must apologise for my extended silence. I’ve been thinking, and reeling, and trying to readjust to having been whisked three months in to the future.
I know the news is good, provided the cancer stays away. And I know that compared to chemo, Tamoxifen should be a walk in the park. So why am I feeling like I’ve just been sent out to sea in a leaky boat?
I guess this is what happens when the future sneaks up on you. This next week or two I’ll let it all sink in, and then take stock and see where I am.
Stay with me. Merry Christmas and happy new year to you and yours…
Ginger cakes for all the lovely folk at St Vincents and the Kinghorn Cancer Centre.
Nobody thought to tell Saskia that I also owned an elephant. The poor hound didn’t expect to be sharing a bedroom with a creature that wanders muttering around the house at night, keeping a drug diary and microwaving heat packs at 4:20am.
It’s done wonders for her toilet training though, as the three of us mosey around the courtyard three or four times throughout the night, my bald head twinkling in the moonlight, all in relatively good humour considering the situation.
And then I had to have a colonoscopy and endoscopy as well. I keep having blood transfusions, and then the red blood cells vanish, leaving me gasping for air within about three weeks. Has the elephant developed a taste for red blood cells? The oncologist thought that maybe the red blood cells were going missing because of an ulcer or internal bleeding, but nothing became apparent despite the battery of tests.
At the height of the special colonoscopy diet, Saskia had the pleasure of watching me sip laxatives, clear beef soup, green jelly and icy poles all at the same time (5:36am!), and then bolt for the bathroom. Only a puppy can love you at a moment like that. She would drape herself languidly on an abandoned pile of pyjamas and patiently wait until I returned from the bathroom, wagging her tail delightedly. I love you the most right now she would happily wriggle. I just love being near you! I love you the most at 5:36am with the runs! I can barely contain my love…
Can you tell why I love her right back? Love love love you too, Saskia!
As the nurse’s (and thus my own) fear rapidly escalated re the elephant, my surgeon as usual fluctuated wildly between totally deadpan You’re fine. Purple is a fine colour for skin. Pus is positive. And what’s wrong with eating hardcore pain meds like they’re M&Ms? and spontaneously over reactive Can you come in at 12:45pm for emergency surgery, and can you start fasting… Umm… Now?
My answers, by the way… Purple is not nice. Pus is not fun. And hardcore pain meds not working anymore is just plain scary. And painful! and While I am already fasting, it is for a colonoscopy, and no you will not be spontaneously performing emergency surgery on me this afternoon. Besides, I have nothing left to operate on!
(Sorry, my true believing friends, I truly don’t intend to mock, but I can’t find a more accurate way to express my frustration and sadness.)
So today I left Saskia chewing on an oversized lamb shank and walked the elephant to hospital.
We were due for my first round of twelve weekly doses of Taxol, but first I had to work my way through three fat bags of B+ blood with my name on them. Transfusions are slow. They drip drip drip away, and I was entertained first by my dad keeping me company, and then dozing in a recliner, trying to recover from several weeks of elephant filled dreams. Sleepy and uneventful, I’d call it.
And then six hours in, the Infectious Disease Registrar turns up. She is the Elephant Specialist at long last! Can she teach me how to kick this bloody cellulitis? Please please please?
Then as I’m deep into giving her my medical history, something strange happens. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t remember what I’ve said, or am saying, and I’m scared but even more scared to admit something is going terribly wrong. I feel very faint and I feel very strange, can you call a nurse?
Not one nurse pours in, but eight or ten. It turns out that they started giving me my Taxol six minutes earlier, and they’d been standing by in case of anaphylaxic shock. Apparently, my chest turned red and rashy over a few seconds. Like magic the nurses injected me with cortisone, were on to me with blood pressure monitors and were holding my hand and stroking my back as I sobbed and tried to breathe.
Have I just become another bad statistic? Again? Seriously?
Everything that happens after that is blurry. I’m given something called Phenurgan and it makes me pleasantly sleepy. The poor Elephant Specialist stands well back, shamefaced, as though her case history caused me to have a near death experience, and quietly asks if she can photograph the elephant and show it to her supervisor.
There is a lot of quiet chat, and I gather that I’m not getting my Taxol today. I’m not getting an elephant cure today either. And I just lie back in my recliner and wait to be taken home to my bad puppy who loves me any old time.
Love you all as well. Even at 5:36am. Even when it’s raining.
If you’re a sweet, sensitive soul, you might not enjoy this post. But it amuses me, and thus I can’t help but share. So please be amused, not offended by what I’m about to share.
I want to tell you about my favourite nurse, and why it is that she holds this honorable title, and there’s no better way than sharing an exchange that we had today.
A special dressings nurse came by to check my wound post-surgery and dress it before my discharge from the hospital. She pulled back the layers of bandages and unwrapped a very wide, very deep hole in my chest. My favourite nurse, let’s call her Nurse G, stood by.
We all admired the hole for a few seconds. Let’s say that surgery is a lot like mining. All my surgeries to date have been the type of mines where there’s untold masses of work happening beneath the surface, but on the surface (the skin) you’d barely know. A few stitches, a scar, that’s the extent of it. Well, my new wound is an open cut mine. I now have an open cut mine the size of a big coin and a good half inch deep sitting below my right breast. I half expect to see a tiny mining truck chugging up the side.
It’s more open than I expected. I say at last.
Your skin is harder than I expected says the dressings expert.
I’m more concerned about the breasts above it! says Nurse G.
I call them my ugly pug tits. I reply.
I was thinking sausage dog… Nurse G suggests.
No, sausage dogs are better looking than that. I reply.
Well, I didn’t like to say it… says Nurse G.
I know, I know, the whole interchange sounds tacky and tactless but it wasn’t at all. Nurse G was able to turn a disturbing new discovery of what the medical profession had done to me this time into something we could all laugh about.
I also loved that she was honest about my breasts. It takes a big person not to lie when it comes to something sensitive like botched up breasts. It’s much easier to make evasive comments or say nothing at all. And it’s best to laugh because, as the cliche goes, laughter really is the best medicine.
I love Nurse G, and wish she could always be by my side. She is unfailingly honest, incredibly experienced and deeply involved with her patients and their well being.
The depth of her experience means that nothing phases her, and you know you’re in the safest hands when she’s around. You’re so safe you can have a laugh along the way.
She’s the one who told me that six doses of the chemo drug I’m on now will kill you. I’ve just had my fourth. I found this remarkable more than terrifying and that’s because I was in her company when I heard it.
Immediately after our pug tit interchange she went and arranged for a community nurse to come around to our house every two days for the next 4-6 weeks to clean my wound and redress it without me having to trek in to hospital. I just hope the community nurse has a fraction of her depth of experience and humour.
Big love to you, Nurse G.
I know how you all like stories about elephants. Many of you have told me so, which is flattering indeed and makes me feel like a Writer with a Capital W.
Sadly, I’m not sure I like stories with elephants any more.
I’m writing this from a rather small but blessedly private hospital room. I say blessedly private, because no-one deserves the punishment of sharing with me and my elephant.
Despite the two surgeries following the mastectomy, the elephant never really left. I thought I’d seen the last of him as I finally went off antibiotics a week and a half ago, but then he started sneaking back in the dead of night.
He developed an unquenchable appetite for pills. Every two hours he’d trumpet for something. I had my work cut out for me tossing Panadol, Nurofen and Endone his way (Side note about Nurofen… It turns out Ibuprofen is really not good when you’re having chemo. I wish I’d known this before the elephant developed a taste for it!). I’d try to buy him off with heat packs and he’d snooze happily for twenty minutes and then yell MORE! just as I was falling asleep.
And then he started spurting pus everywhere. You know a room mate has to go when he spurts pus. That’s the deal breaker right there.
As per usual my crack medical team under reacted. He’s not the biggest elephant we’ve ever seen… they commented. Well, he’s the most painful I’ve ever had… I countered. And it’s true. At night he sits on this nerve under my shoulder blade and it’s bloody agony.
And of course, as tradition dictates, as we suddenly found ourselves four days away from chemo with a wildly out of control elephant on our hands it was “to hospital to hospital jiggity jig” all of a sudden.
After one stunningly sleepless night where the elephant terrified a night nurse with his constant trumpeting and unreasonably frequent demands for heat packs, suddenly everyone in the hospital was treating my elephant with far more respect. We even got to meet an elephant specialist (his business card said he specialised in palliative care but he was at pains to reassure the elephant and I that we weren’t dying quite yet… Well, me, anyway, watch this space Mr Elephant). He came up with a “pain plan” whereby the hospital has to give me pain control whenever I ask, which felt like a bloody miracle and made the elephant dance a happy jig.
And my surgeon announced that what the hell, let’s go for surgery number four which seems to involve washing the elephant out from the cavity left behind by my now deceased right breast.
So once again the elephant has been issued an eviction notice and I await yet more surgery. I must admit all my optimism and enthusiasm is a little on the wane at this point. I hate the following things about surgery: the stupid socks you have to wear afterwards, the horrid anti-coagulant shots they make you get in your thighs which then bleed at the drop of a hat, the scarring, the queasy feeling post-anaesthetic, and the occasional really weird dream. They also cover you with stickers which you keep finding days later which kind of feels like the medical equivalent of those “kick me” stickers that people thought were hilarious in late primary school.
However post surgical pain is seldom, perhaps never as bad as out-of-control elephant pain and as such once again I’m giving my consent for a little more body violation.
On the plus side, I have something very exciting to look forward to this weekend so by hook or by crook the psychopathic pachyderm has got to go. All will be revealed, it’s going to be awesome! I figured I owed myself something wonderful and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
See you all on the other side of surgery number four… Sans elephant of course… And with nice news attached.
Much love, as always.
As things shift rapidly from the sublime to the ridiculous, I’m worried that I (ab)used my Lady Bracknell quote from The Importance of Being Earnest too soon.
Because… believe it or not… I am now set to get my fourth breast removed. Yep, folks, you heard it here first. My lovely breast reconstruction is soon to be entirely defunct, kaput, cactus, on the shelf, sleeping with the fishes. Pick your preferred.
And how am I? Strangely ok with it. Having now lived with my new Frankentit for almost three weeks now, we’ve reached a state of compromise. I don’t like its grouchy flat little face, but it in turn doesn’t hurt and isn’t infected and as such I can forgive it its trespasses.
Basically, I’m sick to death of being in pain, and if having an ugly flat chest for the next six months is the price I have to pay, I’ll take it.
In addition, I got my fake tit. Or tits, really. I have a light foam one for now (sort of a surgical recovery tit… It’s light and doesn’t press hard on the bruised flesh beneath). And for later I have a much more hardcore fleshy feeling stick-on tit with genuine weight, although I’m not allowed to stick it on until January when my chest wall is better healed.
It’s an expensive business buying fake tits. While the government will reimburse me $400 for each tit (maximum two, before you weirdos start having any ideas) you then have to factor in the underwear. It’s a captive audience, the mastectomy crowd. And so they slug us. A bra with little pockets for the prosthesis costs on average $80, although a bit of clever Internet shopping revealed a few cheaper sources. A swimsuit (what, flat chested people swim too?) cost me another $150. Expensive tit pockets, huh? And because you can’t wear a bra/ swimming costume 24/7 but might not want to look like an adolescent boy (or in my current case with one breast remaining I just look wildly lopsided) then there are camisoles with pockets that are a bargain $60!!! Yay! I’ll buy three!!! (true).
So in amongst all this financial bloodletting, getting the second tit off almost seems like a bargain. I might as well, I have all the kit, the prosthesis place is on speed dial anyway. Hey, I’m so organised that I’m picking up my extra tits tomorrow so when I get out of surgery my new breast awaits me. What a cozy thought!
Let’s step away from fake tits for a moment and talk about hats. Because of course, I’ve been buying a lot of those, too. All of these are very worthy things to be blowing my cash on because they enable me to leave the house but oh boy oh boy do they add up!
Our study, which is where we store our clothes, now looks like it’s inhabited by a drag queen. Fake tits, a wig on a wire head, bright scarves and oversized hats strewn everywhere… Weird. Weird weird weird.
And then we get on to the high altitude bit. I’ve mentioned before that if I walk up a teeny tiny five metre hill I find myself gulping for air like a goldfish that’s lost its tank. Well, it turned out that it was because I was incredibly anaemic. I had so few red blood cells to transport oxygen around my body it was like living at high altitude.
So the other day I had my first blood transfusion. This was a strange sensation, because for years now I’ve been on the donor end of the blood world. I was a plasma donor, as apparently that was how my B+ blood was its most useful. I had to break up with the blood bank when I found that I had cancer, because they don’t want your stinky cancer-ridden blood (they put it more politely than that). And now I’m a receiver! I suppose at least I did my bit when I could. And I hope that one day I can go back to being a donor.
Anyway, I can now say with authority that donating your blood is a wonderful gift. Whoever gave me theirs has made me feel a whole heap better. As I gulp whole lungfuls of air I think fondly of them, wherever they are. Thanks, kindly stranger!
So that pretty much covers where I’m at. I return to hospital on Tuesday (RIP Righty) and chemo happens again on Thursday, and then I’m sure you can expect some appropriately grumpy chemo related post some time after that. Chemo is a bitch.
It’s been a week now since surgery. I kept trying to write sooner, but honestly I didn’t have it in me.
On Thursday, I was released from hospital in yet another comedy of errors.
Both the oncologist and surgeon agreed that I could go home from hospital, but neither actually informed the hospital of their intentions. I was meant to have chemo as an inpatient before being released, so I spent Thursday in a state of increasing hysteria as hospital life went on as per usual, with no sign of chemo or any indication that I would be discharged from hospital.
It was 3pm by the time I figured out that the hospital hadn’t heard that I was to be discharged. It turned out that they were awaiting a bed on the chemo level so that they could transfer me and my treatment would continue as an inpatient, with me staying on in hospital.
I hit the roof.
You can’t tell someone they’re going home from hospital and then say “oops, no, you’re just getting some chemo in a whole new ward and staying on” and expect it to go A-OK.
Anyway, to cut a long story short (I’m boring me), I was in my new hospital bed for a whole three hours before successfully escaping the hospital and returning home.
I think with all my hospital rabble rousing and hysteria I gave a close family member the impression that I wasn’t just planning on skipping the hospital, but my chemo and future treatment and future livelihood as well.
Let me assure you that if I decide to skip out on my treatment, I won’t be returning home to Darlinghurst, five minutes away from the fricking hospital.
I will be booking a one way ticket to deepest, darkest Africa, or maybe sun kissed Mauritius and you will be hearing nothing from me. Not a thing.
So here’s where I’m at.
I’m bald. Really really really really bald. The shaved head was cool. It had street cred. My new mannequin head is not cool at all. It’s freaky. I’ve been looking at it for a week now and it’s still freaky.
I’m also nauseous, and exhausted. The latest round of chemo really hit hard. Evidently the last round was insufficiently vile and so they upped the dose (true).
I also only have one breast. So any remaining body confidence I had is now a distant memory.
The chemo also brings with it depression, so I’ve been alternating tears and rages, favoring the tears. Pity, because I actually think rages are probably more fun, but I’m just not really the raging type.
Cancer, you’ve really got me now.
I honestly spent a week trying to figure out a positive way to present this, on this, my happy blog.
But the simple truth is, sometimes you just have to say it like it is and say yes it sucks.
I managed to avoid the cancer feeling for a really long time. I was diagnosed on June 8. I had the bilateral mastectomy on August 8. I went through IVF and then started chemo, and then lost my third breast on October 8. So really I’ve done pretty well to go this long before going and now I really feel like I have cancer.
Superficial I know, but I think it was the baldness. That’s the point where I ceased to even feel comfortable in my own home. I keep a hat on standby at all times in case someone comes to the door and avoid open windows on to the street.
So, in response to the concern that I might run for my bloody life, all I can say is, it’s too late. I had ample time in the first four months to bolt when I was healthy(ish) and looked like everyone else.
No, I’m here, and hanging in here.
The side effects of round two are lessening now. Hopefully within another few days I’ll be back on my feet properly.
I’m sure I’ll get my head around the hat/wig/scarf thing as well, but I think it’ll take some time.
Currently I’m shunning the scarf thing because it looks too cancer. It sounded like a great idea in theory but in practice I just look tiny headed and sick. The wig is pretty hot, and as it’s headed for summer here I’m not sure I should get too dependent on it.
It seems that caps and hats are the go, so I’ll be building my collection rapidly.
I’ll also need to get myself a fake tit (charming) which I’m sure will make for an interesting blog post.
So bear with me. Allow me my space to whinge and mourn and tell the truth and I’m sure things will be on the improve soon.